Kate's Fear of TMJ

An Explanation Of The 3 Phases Of Tooth Decay

For all of the fear that surrounds it, the process of tooth decay remains widely misunderstood by many people. Yet education remains an important part of preventative health. If you would like to protect yourself by learning more about how tooth decay progresses, read on. This article will outline the three principal stages of dental decay.

Demineralized Enamel

Demineralization is the first stage in all instances of decay. It is characterized by the slow growth of whitish spots on the enamel of a tooth. This visual clue may also be accompanied by an increase in sensitivity.

The direct cause of demineralization is an acidic environment inside of your mouth. In fact, demineralization is a threat anytime that your pH falls below 5.7. Thus a certain degree of demineralization can occur as the result of consuming acidic foods--sodas, citrus fruits, and yogurt, to name just three--especially when they form a large part of the diet. The greater threat, however, is posed by the acids produced when bacterial plaque is allowed to accumulate on the surface of the tooth.

When caught during the demineralization stage, it is still possible to reverse the decay. That's because as yet there are no holes present in the surface of the enamel. Regular hygiene, including the use of an antiseptic mouth rinse, is often enough to help remineralize the tooth. In some cases, a dentist might choose to prescribe a toothpaste with a high concentration of fluoride, to help this process.

Dental Caries

Dental caries--aka cavities--are what happens when tooth decay has lead to the formation of a hole in the tooth enamel. This exposes the soft, vulnerable dentin below. This dentin contains a multitude of nerve endings, which is why cavities in their early stages are often associated with sharp sensations of pain.

Once a cavity has formed, your tooth can no longer hope to repair itself naturally. No matter how small it is, the decayed portion of the tooth must be removed by a dentist. The empty cavity this leaves behind must then be filled, in order to keep further decay at bay. This may be done using either a filling, an inlay, or a dental crown.


Before long, an untreated cavity will progress all the way to the pulp at the core of your tooth. This pulp is made up of a multitude of tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. An infection of the pulp is known as pulpitis, and it's primary symptom is an increasing degree of tooth sensitivity. Unfortunately, most cases of pulpitis will require a root canal in order to thoroughly remove the infected tissue. Contact a dentist like Pinon Hills Dental if you think you have dental decay.